Cracking Into Sherlockian Backstory ~ Interview with Darlene Cypser

Holy hand grenades! It’s been a long time since we’ve posted anything! Energy, motivation, and time have been lacking for both of us lately. Do please pardon our silence!

This interview has been an especially long time coming, so we are particularly pleased to share it with you now! The original plan here was for this to be the usual joint review/interview, but I’m afraid only one of us has made it through the books so far (thanks, real world – we love you, too), and I (S.Sigerson) have been separated from my notes by a couple-thousand miles. In other words, the review is going to have to come in a later post.

In the meantime, however, let me just say that for my part, I have really enjoyed Darlene’s books so far. For those of you who may not be familiar with her work, she’s been thoughtfully filling in some of the backstory surrounding Holmes’ childhood/adolescence, and university years. I’d not read any pastiche of this sort prior to Crack in the Lens and the ‘University’ volume of the Consulting Detective Trilogy, so this was engaging territory for me. 

I think each and every one of us grapples with the mystery of Holmes’ childhood and adolescence at some point in the course of our Sherlockian endeavors, and it’s always fun for me to hear (or read) the sorts of things people have come up with. It’s such a mysteriously enticing topic that it’s frankly pretty hard to avoid pondering it. From what I’ve gathered thus far, opinions seem to differ quite greatly and sometimes (like any such thing really) rather agressively. As hinted at above, I’ve not yet read or discussed my way into this particular subject matter enough to *really* be able to debate along with everyone else, but as far as I can determine, these books are really very thoughtfully done and well-researched. None of us can really, truly ‘know’ what Holmes’ past *really* looks like and I say Darlene’s ideas seem pretty plausible. There really isn’t much in them that I personally found any fault in or took issue with. I suppose I could have written this interview up as a nitpicky, hair-splitting, spoiler-ridden discussion over little details, but who would want to read that?

So then! …


SP: This may be kind of a generic question, but what made you decide to begin writing your own pastiche, and how did you settle on filling in Holmes’ earlier life/backstory?

DC: As I child I had very turbulent emotions, and would break into tears easily or fly into rages. When I read the Canon I felt that Sherlock Holmes’ control of his emotions might be a useful thing. That might be something someone could teach themselves. But I also saw his reaction to women, which impressed me more as a fear of getting close to them rather than a hatred and his silence about his family. Together that all seemed to point to some tragedy in his past, which also could explain why he decided to become a detective. I wondered what it could be and tried to use Holmes’ own methods to reason it backwards. These thoughts churned around in my head for a while before I began writing The Crack in the Lens. Even once I started writing, that book had a long gestation period. I started it in 1986 and did most of the research about Yorkshire and Victorian England manually at a number of public libraries and university libraries across the country. Then from 1995 to 2005 the manuscript and notes were boxed away through a divorce and a series of moves. I explored the contents of the boxes in 2005 in the midst of another move and liked what I read. So I spent some months completing the book. The end had been written for over a decade but I rewrote the beginning 2 or 3 times.

Then I started asking myself what happened next to these people (and what really happened to some of them – No, I am not going to tell you… yet) and decided I wanted to tell the rest of the story of how Sherlock Holmes got from where I left him at the end of The Crack in the Lens to his meeting with Dr. Watson in A Study in Scarlet. I did not realize at the time that it was going to turn into a trilogy.

I am fascinated with diving into the mind of Sherlock Holmes and will continue to tell the story behind the Canon after I complete The Consulting Detective Trilogy.

SP: For that matter: Can you tell us anything about your creative process for these books? Can you reveal to us any of your process for deciding how to fill that backstory in? A lot of people have an awful lot of theories on the matter – How did you develop and settle on the details you did?

DC: I start with the characters. I get to know them. I daydream about them and find out what they would do in certain circumstances. It is not always what I would expect. I also believe that tiny incidents can change things dramatically. I have variations based on someone deciding to go somewhere or not to go somewhere or showing up five minutes early or late. It can change lives. I allow these things to play out in my head long before committing them to paper.

The historical and social context is important to how people act. I might have a general idea about what a character might do in a situation which turns out to be totally wrong once I do my research of the time and place.

My primary source for the details of Sherlock Holmes’ life is the Canon. After that I consult over a hundred years of Sherlockian scholarship. I like to include theories of fans as long as they are not inconsistent with the Canon or historical fact. Of course, Sherlockians don’t normally agree, that’s part of the fun of Sherlockian scholarship. So I have to look at everyone’s arguments and make up my own mind.

SP: How long did it take you to think all of these creative details out once you had an idea of where you wanted to go with the story? I (Carrie) found the ‘climbing’ scenes in Cambridge particularly delightful. How did you come up with details like that (particularly with regard to where things like drainpipes are positioned, or how large the handholds are, etc.)? You discuss some of this at the end of the books, but how much of the storyline and its details is research, and how much ‘creative inference’? I, for one, really enjoyed those sorts of conclusions.

DC: The details about Cambridge in The Consulting Detective Part I: University are largely factual. Someone once said (I was quoted in Sherlock: The Reichenbach Fall, but has been around a lot longer than that) that the way to make a lie acceptable was to wrap it in the truth. The same is true for fiction… or is it fiction? I purchased a number of books about Victorian Cambridge, both the town and the university, and read a lot more in digital form. I dig through them for details that look useful to the story, things that Sherlock would be interested in or that would move him forward towards his career as a detective. I also wandered around Cambridge via Google Earth, old maps and old photographs until I felt I knew it.

I was introduced to the “night climbing” in Cambridge by Richard Chorley’s booklet “Sherlock Holmes at Sydney Sussex” which the college still sells. I saw references to it in some of the other books and then actively hunted for the climbing guides which students have written. Those details came from the climbing guides. So they are real. However, I left some parts out on most of the climbs, which is why I warn against using my descriptions as climbing guides. When I describe Sherlock’s feelings during the climb or his view from the rooftops, then I am using a combination of what students have written and what I knew about him and about Cambridge from my research.

SP: Had you originally planned on writing more than one book when you first set out to finish Crack in the Lens?

DC: No.

SP: Were you expecting to get a trilogy out of it?

DC: When I decided to write the sequel to The Crack in the Lens, I did not realize that was going to be a trilogy. It just grew that way.

SP: Any thoughts of what you’ll do once the trilogy is done?

DC: Right now I think I will jump forward to 1886. By then Holmes and Watson are well established as flat-mates and Holmes’ practice is blossoming but a series of events will lead to things unraveling in 1887 and 1888. It will involve Holmes’ initial discoveries that someone (he does not know who) is organizing the London underworld. One “small” event will be the death of a character that you have already met in The Consulting Detective Part I but it will change how Holmes deals with it when he finds out it is Moriarty. This story will reach all the way to Reichenbach and at the same time answer many questions left at the end of The Crack in the Lens. I have no idea how many parts it will have yet.

SP: We know that you became interested in Holmes and Watson when you were a teenager, but what is it that keeps you going? What draws you to the stories/Characters the most? Where’s the magic for you, as it were?

DC: Holmes and Watson and the other characters are just so real for me that I have to know more about them and if Doyle won’t tell me then I have to get the characters themselves to tell me.

SP: …Alternately: What do you think Holmes and Watson mean for today’s readers/audiences? What do they have to teach us?

DC: They teach us the value of friendship. They teach us that we can be greater and see more if we will open our eyes to the world around us and apply our brains to what we see. They teach us the importance of being adventurous and devoted – “to be willing to march into hell for a heavenly cause” as the song from Man of LaMancha goes. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson would be great men in any century.


As always, we are very appreciative of the time Darlene has taken out of her certainly very busy schedule to answer our handful of questions!  Our apologies once again, Darlene, for how long it’s taken us to get this put up, but we hope you got some enjoyment from it and that it lends you a little bit of a hand – if only a very small one.  We’d also like to add an additional sincere ‘thank you’ for Darlene’s generosity in having sent us each signed copies of Crack in the Lens and the first in the Consulting Detective Trilogy!

For the rest of you:  If you’ve not yet given any of Darlene’s works a look, please follow any of the hyperlinks above to each of the two books we have and/or take a gander at her Amazon profile page, where you’ll also find listings for all of her OTHER books!  Otherwise, you can also read a little more about Crack in the Lens in particular right HERE.

Happy reading!

2 comments on “Cracking Into Sherlockian Backstory ~ Interview with Darlene Cypser

  1. Frederick says:

    Wow, amazing blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?
    you make blogging look easy. The overall look of your website is excellent,
    as well as the content!

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